Mark Goldberg

Fox Group Dispatch

Cell towers aren’t hurting you

While CBC may attract lots of visits to its website through articles warning of wireless radiation, it neglected coverage of an important release from a public health official. Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health has recommended that the City of Toronto eliminate its policy of Prudent Avoidance, a 5-year old policy of asking wireless carriers to keep RF emission levels 100 times below Health Canada’s public exposure guideline, Safety Code 6.

The summary from the Medical Officer of Health says:

From its review of recent health evidence, TPH [Toronto Public Health] notes that the majority scientific opinion indicates that the health risk to the public from cell towers and other telecommunications sources of RFs is low.

Based on a review of evidence and TPH’s experience implementing the policy, continued application of the [Prudent Avoidance] policy in the form of a stricter exposure guideline is no longer necessary as it does not confer a health benefit to the residents of Toronto.

In a more detailed report, Toronto Public Health sharply criticized the opposing viewpoints.

The most vocal opposing view has been put forward by scientists contributing to the BioInitiative Report. This report has been evaluated by a number of health scientists and public health agencies as being characterized by biased and selective interpretation of scientific data, leading to unscientific and alarming conclusions about a range of health conditions.

Among the most damning critiques of the Bio-Initiative Report, incorporated in the Toronto Public Health report by footnote, was an article in Science-Based Medicine that refers to the BioInitiative Report as “an egregiously slanted review of health and biological effects of electromagnetic fields (EMF) of the sort that are produced by power lines, cellular telephones, Wi-Fi, and other mainstays of modern life.”

Toronto Public Health addressed the question of non-specific symptoms – symptoms that some have called environmental sensitivity to RF and other electromagnetic fields.

There is, however, growing evidence that the perception of exposure is associated with experiencing symptoms and as such, that a nocebo effect with respect to cell towers is likely contributing to individuals‟ reporting of such health complaints. (This conclusion in no way diminishes the serious nature of these complaints which some individuals experience as severe and debilitating.) The nocebo effect refers to the observation that people may experience adverse symptoms because of their negative expectations or concerns about cell towers. In particular, people tend to feel more at risk from environmental health hazards when they lack control over their exposure or have little perceived benefit from exposure.

While CBC chose to give unwarranted attention to some well meaning but ill-informed junk science, Toronto Public Health noted that broadcast antennas, not cell towers, were the major contributors to RF levels in Toronto. It is unclear whether the authors of the CBC articles understood that CBC’s own radio and TV transmitters have been beaming radio frequency energy for decades before the cell phone was introduced. Indeed, Industry Canada’s evaluation of EMF Intensity in the City of Toronto found that the CBC Broadcast Centre is Toronto’s hottest location, still less than 6% of limits.

The Toronto Public Health report cites a review by the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control and National Collaborating Centre for Environmental Health for a helpful explanation for why RF levels would not increase over time:

Although intuitively, one may assume that an increase in base stations means higher ambient exposure, mobile phones do not need to use as much power (due to adaptive control) to communicate with the base stations due to shorter distances. As a good connection translates into lower output power levels, urban centres with higher base station densities often experience lower RF than rural centres.

I wrote about that effect last year in a blog post called “We need more towers.” CBC did a disservice to Canadians in promoting purveyors of junk science while failing to cover the important report from Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health that recommends the elimination of its prudent avoidance policy. The full report is worth reading.

4 comments to Cell towers aren’t hurting you

  • Charlene

    Unfortunately, this issue is more about anti-wireless industry groups public relations ability and press releases than it is about actual science and public policy.

  • Mark: Excellent article on wireless!!! Our local town folks shut down a new cellular tower being installed in Mount Albert because of mis-information, and yet they complain about bad cellular service.

    Our DSL services are not expanding or upgrading, plus many of my neighbours are too far from the central offices to have it work at all. (Fortunately we have great DSL bonded together + 3G/4G + xplornet satellite to our facilities to give us the aggregated bandwidth we need).

    We don’t have cable in most of the East Gwillimbury area, and for those that don’t want satellite, 3G/4G wireless data on a smart hub is best alternative…but….this means more cell towers are needed!

    Perhaps the wireless carriers should try to do more education with the public with the real facts about cellular technology???

  • Jim Johannsson

    We recently installed a cell tower approximately 170 metres from a school. To address concerns from parents of children attending the school we conducted a series of RF power density measurements in and around the school. The strongest cell tower signal measured inside the school was found inside the front entrance and was found to be 230,000 times below the Safety Code 6 limits. In comparison, the signal from the town’s local FM radio station at that same location was 27,000 times below the Safety Code 6 limits. Despite these measurements showing an order of magnitude lower RF power density from the cell tower than the FM station, several parents remained unconvinced that the cell tower signals were safe.

    We clearly have a lot of work to do to help educate the public on how radio waves work.

  • Stephen

    I agree with Mr. Johannsson that much more needs to be done to educate the public, and perhaps this is where a group like the CWTA (and especially Health Canada) needs to be much more proactive. The anti-wireless industry forces are claiming a lot of trophies for their mantle these days because it is very easy to scare people with junk science. Hopefully, the Feds will take steps to reign in activist councils and actually allow the industry to deploy the networks they are spending billions of dollars buying rights to.